CAIRO: Thirty-two rights groups condemned a raid on civil society organizations Thursday, promising to continue their work.
Security forces and prosecutors raided 17 offices of rights groups and organizations on Thursday, including the offices of three US-funded groups promoting democracy, following official announcements about an investigation into illegal foreign funding.
“This serious step marks the beginning of a security campaign that is expected to affect dozens of advocacy groups,” the 32 groups, which include the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance, the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, said in a statement.
The raid “is part of a broader campaign launched by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to smear and stigmatize all rights activists and numerous forces involved in the January 25 revolution,” they added.
The charges for which the offices were raided and their equipment confiscated haven’t been officially announced. It’s believed to be part of the government investigation of the funding of civil society organizations.
Minister of Justice Adel Abdel Hameed said in a press conference earlier this month that investigations into illegal foreign funding were based on the results of a probe conducted by a fact-finding committee affiliated to the Ministry of Justice.
"The probe examined the legality of the work of 300 NGOs and the direct foreign funding they received from foreign countries and organizations," the minister said.
"The investigations revealed that a number of Egyptian and foreign organizations received foreign funding and worked illegally inside Egypt. Investigations are ongoing as other state monitoring institutions are compiling reports about these organizations," he added.
“They are trying to defame us but this is a [small] battle, said Ahmed Seif, founder of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, one of the signatories. “The bigger battle is to continue our work, because all the victims have faith in us. So the question should be how we are going to protect our country by protecting the files in our offices.”
Armed special forces along with police officers and prosecutors raided the offices of the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Freedom House, all Washington-based organizations, as well as Germany’s Konrad Adenauer foundation and 13 Egyptian NGOs including the Egyptian Arab Center for the Independence of Judiciary (ACIJ) and Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory (BHRO).
Gamal Eid, head of the Arab Network Human Rights Information, one of the signatories, said, “I asked the public prosecutor what are the special forces doing here, they told me it’s their right. We are ruled by a tyrannical regime.”
The United States, Germany and the United Nations have condemned the raids.
The 32 Egyptian groups, which held a joint press conference Thursday hours after the raids, said they were still discussing how to respond.
“We are studying our options. We could organize a protest or a sit-in. We are still figuring out our way but we will not stop,” Seif said.
Nasser Amin, head of the ACIJ, stressed that the organization would work with or without offices and even if its members were behind bars. He however lamented the timing.
“We were expecting this to happen but before Jan.25 [the uprising the toppled president Hosni Mubarak], not after,” he said.
In the statement the groups said, “The SCAF proves not only its hostility to the fundamental goals of the Egyptian revolution and the sacrifices of its martyrs, but demonstrates its deeply held desire to settle accounts with political and advocacy groups that played a prominent role in ushering in the revolution or during the uprising itself.”
They said SCAF is reproducing Mubarak’s authoritarian methods “in an even uglier, more dangerous form.”
The Egyptian Social Democratic Party strongly condemned Friday the raids on NGOs.
"The ESD calls on all revolutionary and political forces to join a march in front of the Prosecutor General’s office to condemn current raids by prosecutors and Commandos forces against NGOs," ESD said in a statement Friday.
Other voices, however, were not as critical.
Mahmoud Ghozlan, spokesman of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Daily
News Egypt that the work of rights groups is appreciated and the rights of association, expression and organization are constitutional rights, but all should work in accordance with the law.
"These organizations should have patriotic agendas, their sources of funding should be revealed and monitored, and they should be working legally," Ghozlan said, quoting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she said $40 million will be given for NGOs to support democracy.
"US money was injected in the country right after the revolution with claims to support democracy, but this money should be monitored and state institution must make sure that this money is spent legally," he said.
Ghozlan said that all should respect the law, and as long as the judiciary is working on monitoring this process, the rule of law should be respected.
The groups’ representatives at the press conference said the campaign aims to repress the right to speak up in Egypt.
“Why are we a target? Maybe because we have been monitoring the military’s budget?” asked Helmy Rawy, head of BHRO.
“We won’t stop, we will unite with April 6, Revolutionary Socialists, Ultras, and whoever is ready to resist those who are working on countering the revolution,” said Hafez Abou Saeda, head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, one of the signatories.
Hafez described as illegal the act of confiscating properties and paperwork without registration. This, he explained, would allow the government to add to the list material not take from the raided offices.
In late October, the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation revealed that 12 Egyptian NGOs had received $5.8 million, while 14 US NGOs operating in Egypt had received $47.8 million illegally, according to reports.
At that time, Minister of International Cooperation Fayza Aboul Naga slammed the funding of NGOs that were not registered with the ministry or whose funding the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not oversee.
“It is not enough for the [US embassy] to notify the Egyptian government if the NGOs were given funds and this does not justify the continuation of their activities, which must cease immediately,” said Aboul Naga, adding that Egypt does not reject foreign funds to NGOs as long as they are processed within the agreed upon legal framework.
Law 84/2002 requires NGOs to get approval from the Ministry of Social Solidarity before they can receive foreign funds. The ministry could block funding for several reasons in which employees of the organizations face imprisonment and a fine if convicted.
Aboul Naga has previously specified that these funds should only go towards development projects and that funding for political organizations, whether civil society or political parties, is completely illegal.
“The military chiefs now ruling Egypt, has no intention of permitting the establishment of genuine democracy and is attempting to scapegoat civil society for its own abysmal failure to manage Egypt’s transition effectively,” David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House, wrote in a press statement.
NGOs representatives say they expect more raids by security forces to take place these days. –Additional reporting by Mai Shams El-Din.